Jan 16, 2013, 12:20 PM EDT
Every day until the season starts we’ll explore an intriguing storyline for the upcoming year.
Last April, Florida’s gain was Toronto’s pain.
When the Panthers clinched a playoff spot on Apr. 5, they snapped the NHL’s longest postseason drought — 12 years — and passed that depressing mantle onto the Leafs.
It’s been seven years since the Leafs last made the playoffs. The last time they did it, in 2003-04, the roster included the likes of Mats Sundin, Joe Nieuwendyk, Ron Francis, Ed Belfour and Brian Leetch.
All five of those guys are now in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
So yeah, long time.
For one of the league’s most storied franchises — one recently fired GM Brian Burke called the “crown jewel” and “Vatican” of the NHL — that stretch of futility is unacceptable.
Which brings us to the question at hand:
Will the futility end this season?
If the early parts of training camp were any indication, there’s not a lot of optimism.
Toronto began the campaign in the most dysfunctional way imaginable — by firing Burke, the club’s outspoken architect.
His dismissal went down almost exactly as many figured it would, with a hailstorm of controversy, sound bites and unanswered questions as to why owners decided to turf the GM eight days prior to the start of a condensed regular season.
That hasn’t been the only distraction in Leaf land, either.
The goaltending situation — the bane of Burke’s four-year existence — is as convoluted as ever. Talks of an impending Roberto Luongo acquisition continue to swirl and, should that trade never come to fruition, there’s debate over which in-house candidate would be No. 1.
Former No. 1 James Reimer should be the starter by default, but he hasn’t played a competitive game since March 2011. He’s also looked shaky in camp and could be surpassed by Ben Scrivens, who has been playing frequently in the AHL and, according to CBC’s Glen Healy, looks like a confident goalie.
“Just looking at Scrivens’s body language, he seems to have a lot of swagger,” said Healy. “The biggest thing for goaltenders is that six inches between your ears — that belief that you can accomplish what you want to accomplish. That you can do it. That you’ve got confidence.
“His emergence into [the NHL] game could not be better timed, with the lockout ending and a lot of other players not playing.”
As for other personnel, the Leafs didn’t upgrade much from a roster that finished 13th in the Eastern Conference a year ago.
James van Riemsdyk came aboard (at the expense of losing Luke Schenn) and checking center Jay McClement was signed in free agency. Morgan Rielly, the fifth overall pick at the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, could challenge for a roster spot, but is only 18 years old.
Which means Toronto might be seeking improvement from within.
To that end, the Leafs should have some optimism. One of the biggest disappointments from last year was Nikolai Kulemin, who saw his goal production decrease from 30 in 2010-11 to seven in 2011-12.
The 30-year-old Russian was active during the lockout, playing with Magnitogorsk of the KHL, racking up 38 points in 36 games.
But really, improvement has to come across the board. The only way the Leafs are going to make the playoffs is if everything about the team gets better, something head coach Randy Carlyle acknowledges.
“I’ve left the message with the players in departing last year that we were not competitive enough in all three zones,” Carlyle explained. “We have to be prepared to go — if you want to call it war in some situations, so be it — we want to be able to compete night in, night out, for every puck, every faceoff.
“That’s the message that’s been delivered. That’s the type of style we’re expected to play.”
For all the PHT Pressing Questions, click here.
Sep 30, 2014, 9:56 AM EDT
Rob Zepp was starting to look like a possibility to be the team’s backup.
Sep 30, 2014, 9:00 AM EDT
Zdeno Chara’s advancing age is one reason for Bruins fans to worry.
Sep 30, 2014, 8:56 AM EDT
Devils coach Pete DeBoer says they’re still dating.
Sep 30, 2014, 8:00 AM EDT
Tuesday’s collection of links.
Sep 29, 2014, 11:18 PM EDT
Cory Conacher is probably up next.
Sep 29, 2014, 10:44 PM EDT
He’s running out of opportunities to get into an exhibition contest.
Sep 29, 2014, 9:35 PM EDT
The timing is interesting.
Sep 29, 2014, 8:44 PM EDT
This is a critical season for him.
Sep 29, 2014, 8:29 PM EDT
He won’t return to Monday’s game.
Sep 29, 2014, 7:54 PM EDT
This has been a rough preseason for Columbus.
Sep 29, 2014, 7:00 PM EDT
Will he be able to build off of his 2013-14 campaign though?
Sep 29, 2014, 5:51 PM EDT
This is certainly the time to do that.
Sep 29, 2014, 4:53 PM EDT
Has two goals in the preseason.
Sep 29, 2014, 4:25 PM EDT
Next up: Brenden Dillon.
Sep 29, 2014, 4:14 PM EDT
If you were a member of the Dallas Stars at the turn of the century, you could get a job next!
Sep 29, 2014, 3:02 PM EDT
Prospects Nic Kerdiles and Stefan Noesen headed to AHL Norfolk.
Sep 29, 2014, 2:37 PM EDT
Bo Horvat may have the inside track over Hunter Shinkaruk and Nicklas Jensen to make Vancouver’s opening-day roster.
Sep 29, 2014, 1:52 PM EDT
Veteran blueliner suffered a separated shoulder during the preseason.
Sep 29, 2014, 1:05 PM EDT
Leafs forward injured once again.
Sep 29, 2014, 12:47 PM EDT
Pair of once-touted prospects now up for grabs.
- Risk Factors: Boston Bruins edition 2
- Hello Johansen? Boone Jenner out with broken hand 4
- Bruins release Leino; Boychuk staying put? 18
- Babcock doesn’t think this will be his last year with the Wings 9
- Starting tomorrow, PHT’s ‘Risk Factors’ Series 6
- Krug, Smith sign with Bruins 19
- PHT Morning Skate: Grigorenko with highlight-reel shootout goal 7
- Sabres lose Larsson, Kaleta to head injuries, Leafs’ Booth out too (Update: Franson’s hurt) 5
- Report: Dal Colle signs with Islanders (Updated) 1
- Bridge built: Blues lock up Schwartz to two-year deal reportedly worth $4.7M 12
- Jordan Subban has ‘moved on’ after ‘unfortunate’ photo caption by Vancouver papers (52)
- Players pushed for coaching fines because they were ‘encouraged’ to dive (34)
- Sabres’ Nolan, Avalanche don’t believe in analytics (32)
- Caps unveil new Winter Classic jerseys (28)
- Ouch: Datsyuk (separated shoulder) out 4-5 weeks (27)